Tag Archives: SXSW 2016

McDonald’s at SXSW 2016

McDonald’s 2016


I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love it just a little

McDonald’s is back at SXSW 2016 with a music venue and free food

McDonald’s showed up as an unexpected presence at SXSW last year. They were one of the main sponsors last year, with a large pop up venue that included live music, free food and swag.

This year McDonald’s is back and they have expanded their presence. They have a lounge for badge-holders in the Convention Center where many of the SXSW sessions take place. It’s oddly classy. There are flavored waters, flat screen TVs, chairs, and Wi-Fi. Quiet people in somewhat serious clothing are sitting and working on whatever it is they work on.

The big deal event here is the McDonald’s venue at SXSW. It’s right next to the Convention Center on Red River Street. The venue is called “Textile” and includes an outdoor patio area. The smell of burgers and fries emanates from blocks away.

There is a line that varies depending on the time of day. During the day, “guest pass” (a free pass available to the general public) holder can stand in line and be admitted as capacity allows. It’s a popular place to be. At night, it’s badges only, in general.

Walking in from the bright Texas sun requires a few moments of adjustment. Once the eyes adjust a carefully-curated world is revealed. Like many companies this year, McDonald’s has a VR station available.  People can paint in virtual reality and have a picture taken that shows them and their creation. It’s probably better to do this station before eating or drinking.

Eating and drinking are also popular activities at the McDonald’s venue. There is a soft serve ice cream sundae bar. The ice cream is served in a tall plastic cup, generously filled with the ever-so-familiar McDonald’s vanilla soft serve. Various candies, cookies, M&M’s, Oreos, and all the standards are there to hit your sweet tooth right in every weak spot.

McDonald’s has also brought the McDonald’s classic fare. There is a food truck setup where guests can request whatever their fearful heart desires. Within reason. There is a designated menu. At this moment it consists of:

Egg McMuffin

McDouble Sandwich

Jalepeno McDouble



Dude is waving at my camera. He was cool.

There is a second window where guests can pickup fries, Cutie brand oranges and tiny bags of apple slices. Because McDonald’s cares about your health.

A couple of people are walking around in uniforms carrying trays of fries and condiments, like the cigarette girls of old. They are ready with that second helping of fries, should you need it.

There is also a bar with free drinks. Pretty par for the course at SXSW, but this means that McDonald’s is rising to the expected level of extravagance. They have also decided to pay their musicians this year, minus the drama that surrounded last year’s “to pay or not to pay” dilemma. They even took it to the next level by having a table setup and dedicated to HAAM (Health Alliance for Austin Musicians) a charity that helps musicians get health care.

The stage is in the outdoor side of the venue. The area is entirely covered in a tent-like structure. There are wooden picnic tables so that people can sit down to enjoy their free food and music. There are tables to stand by, for those that want to be close to the music.  The audience is engages in a range of appreciative behaviors ranging from selfies to slight dancing movements.


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The bands are pretty good. Solid setup, decent sound. And they seem pretty happy to be there. Brief discussions with a couple of musicians reveal that some of them were surprised to find themselves playing the McDonald’s venue, but are pleasantly surprised by the legit setup.  Some of them were also surprised to learn that they would be paid.

There’s nothing to say about the food. Most people know what McDonald’s tastes like. That’s the whole point of McDonald’s. But there is something here. It’s sitting down with a nostalgically familiar flavor, listening to a couple new songs.

SXSW is all about walking miles a day. That leaves you hungry. This dose of hangover soaking fast food hits a particular craving that sneaks in at this sort of place.  It just might be the right snack for this particular moment in time.  No doubt that McDonald’s has effectively marketed to a demographic.


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Angry Scotsmen at the Hype Hotel

The Hype Hotel is open and some Scottish dudes are angry



Magnificent tower of marketing power


It’s Saturday night at the Hype Hotel on the last day of SXSW. A whiny guy in a Plexiglas box has started to sing but the Scotsman is still angry. He’s gonna stay that way. But he has good reason.

The Hype Hotel is a staple of the SXSW experience. This year it’s at the fashionable new-ish venue called “Fair Market.” Fair Market is a warehouse venue on the East Side in a neighborhood where lately upscale markets, tech start-ups, and cat cafes have been emerging from the cracked sidewalks. It’s very in right now, probably.

The Hype Hotel is sort-of open to the public. There was an RSVP, done online, and pick up your wristband. So like many things at SXSW, capacity determines whether you get in. But, being a few blocks from the main SXSW downtown activities, it’s not as crowded as it could be.

Guests in the GA line are given a couple drink tickets. A raucous crowd is dancing to a band and a lightshow. It’s a good setup here. Nice venue.

The lines are long for mixed drinks. Outside is a grassy fenced in area. Many people are smoking out here. Smoking is still very cool apparently. They huddle in crowds and fight the wind to light the brand of cigarette they feel most affiliated with.

Crowds like this do have a tendency to inspire conversation. People bum a cig and join a discussion of geopolitics in an ever-connected era. Politely are discussing the political state of host-country America on a terrifyingly-amplified world stage. Smoking brings people together.

There is a small beach in the corner. Sandals wine is here and right on brand. Their breezy beachy brand message is reinforced with a set of lawn chairs and a make-your-own flip flops booth (sometimes awkwardly referred to as “thongs”). The key to the free flip flops is sharing images through social media. An excellent gift for those who are paranoid about the shower sanitation in whatever hotel/hostel/craigslist posting you are staying at.

Drink tickets can also be used on Sandals wine. Their line is much shorter.


Sandals Wine setup included sand

There is a band in a box. The main stage is inside, but in this outdoor area, a Plexiglas box has been set up with all the necessary equipment for a small, contained performance. A band is currently setting up to play.

Some Scottish people are here as well. They are milling about with their mixed drinks and reminiscing on their SXSW experiences. They are mostly finished with their SXSW music experience, and a pretty happy with the shows they put on or were part of. They are not happy the show that is happening now.

The man in the box started on a bad note. For some inexplicable reason, he chose to precede his performance with a rant about how much he hates this city and the people here.  He could be joking, a dry humor, but there are no real indicators of that. It’s all rather left field really.

The Scots do not take kindly to this unkindness. They talk about how this city “has been nothing but nice” and how you can dislike a government or policies but you can’t just go and hate a people. Especially when you are a guest. Their language is much more charming than this.

The music is astonishingly mediocre. Continual references to “the blood in his veins” or whatever. Some songs about waking up and drinking, but the tone is all sad and slow. Like the juxtaposition of party lifestyle and slow song is supposed to imply deepness.

It’s like, if you’re gonna roll hard and swagger like that, right from the get go, you got to be good, or funny, or better than this guy, at least.  There may be some way to pull of the whole “I hate you all, but I want you to be sensitive to my sensitive music fully of my personal feelings.” If there is, he didn’t pull it off.

There is talk of a rebellion. The Scottish band says they could do a better job than this fellow. Under the flag of the Hype Hotel we must rise up and stamp out this mediocrity. If ever a man “needed a kicking” it was this man.

So the (short) set is spent complaining about this dude. Creative phrasings for how to deal with his rudeness and lameness. All dry wit, followed by base insults. Creative gestures from these Scottish jesters. Using up the last of the drink tickets. The sky is clear for now, but rain is coming. Perhaps the rains gods have come to render judgment. But that will be later.

The set ends and the dude takes time to, once again, state that he  hates this city and the people here. The crowd isn’t paying much attention. Most people are inside listening to the other band, who doubtless has a better attitude.

But the Scots are listening. They hear him. They will meet with him again they say, some day, in some other place. They will teach him the importance of being civil. They phrase this much more directly.

It’s a good night though. A delightful evening standing in the grass with strangers talking politics and laughing at a rude man in a plastic box. Free drinks. The Hype Hotel lives up to it.



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Containment at SXSW 2016


This event at SXSW Interactive promotes the CW’s Containment with a dramatic presentation and free alcohol

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Spray paint so you know to be afraid


The people in the box are writhing on hospital cots. Bloody handprints are streaked across the glass that separate them from the crowd.  The clock has stopped. People in hazmat suits are roaming around looking for the infected. People in lab coats are working on the cure.  A man stands guard at the ” cordon sanitaire,” the barrier that separates this scene from the rest of the bar.

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This is for real

It’s all a performance. This is an event to promote the CW’s new show Containment. Based on the Belgian series Cordon, Containment is a miniseries event about a virus that enters Atlanta, forcing the area to be put under quarantine by federal authorities. The show premieres on April 19, 2016.

This is the middle of SXSW Interactive, and extravagant promotional events are to be expected here. This particular event is happening on Rainy Street, a yuppie-cool street made of bars that used to be houses. The CW has transformed a part of Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden into this promotional event.

There is a man standing guard at the gate. His face  stays stuck in a glare that remains even when he is posing for pictures with the amused guests. Standing behind the guard, is the man keeping count of capacity. He makes the actual decisions around here.

People in lab coats are roaming around. They offer “the cure” in the form of syringe-shaped shots. They dispense the shots into the mouths of willing participants and declare them cured. Over at the bar/lab there are more “cures.” A fruity-but -mellow mixed punch drink is served by the glass and declared to have curative properties. Reviews say the cure is quite tasty. Screens behind the bar show a PSA from CW’s Containment, and it adds a certain layer of drama to the “lab” area.

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Fake blood, real television

People are gathered around wooden benches appreciating the complimentary “cures” and general ambiance. Every once in a while, people in hazmat suits drag along an “infected” they are pale and weak. They are moved behind a metal fence.  They are placed in containment.

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The lights flicker on and off and flash red

The area of containment has clear walls. They are streaked with the bloody handprints of the people that lie prone in the cots. They moan and roll over. The lights flicker on and off as the recently-infected are contained with the others.

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These people were committed to the part (hopefully)

On the next day of the event, things have progressed further. The people are paler and sicker.  The walls are more streaked with blood. The lights flicker on and off with more frequency.  The infected are weaker, staying on their cots, curled and suffering.

Meanwhile on the benches, people continue to casually sip various cures. Many selfies are taken, the event is a perfect SXSW photo opp. The event hits capacity and those lucky enough to be in the quarantine gaze with a certain superiority at the masses below, outside the ” cordon sanitaire.”

People in lab coats hand out drinks, people behind plastic wall pretend to be gravely ill, as attendees take selfies.  This is South by Southwest Interactive, at its most interactive.

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Free drinks anyone?

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Nolan Bushnell


I look for coffee and find Nolan Bushnell, inventor of Atari


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Nolan Bushnell and Guy Kawasaki

It’s that time of day. I am at SXSW and I need coffee. Wandering at large in the upper floors of the convention center,  I see a lounge, one of the corporate sponsored hangout rooms where people sit, recharge their phones, send work emails, and nap. These places sometimes have coffee.

I smell coffee and I hear the puffing whir of a cappuccino machine. Good enough, going in.

This is the Comcast Social Media Lounge, brought to you by Comcast. It’s supposed to have tech influencers giving speeches as well. In fact, there’s one here now.

At the door there are some friendly people scanning badges, they apologize but they are out of books. Apparently Nolan Bushnell is here, and everybody wanted to pick up a copy of his latest work. He invented Atari and is regarded as an integral part of the tech revolution by some people.  Right now, he is being interviewed on a small stage.

The interviewer is author and speaker, Guy Kawasaki. Kawasaki is very enthusiastic about this interview. The tone of his questioning and the excitement of his interjections are reminiscent of a young person at a comic con who is meeting their favorite graphic artist.

Bushnell maintains a cool distance. He’s leaned back in his chair, hands clasped, legs crossed at the ankle. He doesn’t need to be here, it’s all a choice. He’s done this sort of thing a million times.

Questioning starts with the ancient history of a time before home computers.  They go back to discuss Bushnell’s association with fellow tech innovator, Steve Jobs. Apparently Bushnell was the only person to actually employ Jobs, a fact he seems to take some pride in. Bushnell speaks highly of the innovative usefulness of Jobs.

They delve into the gossip of their company culture. Kawasaki asks about the Grass Valley culture ” what was it like “were you guys just sitting around in beanbag chairs smoking marijuana all day.” Bushnell responded  “yeah, we had a research facility in Grass Valley and everybody said, oh yeah, Grass Valley, they must be doing a lot of doobies but actually those in my marketing department, almost none of them smoked.” The crowded laughs because the someone said doobie.

Then Kawasaki gets into the history of Atari in particular. Bushnell explains how it all started at an amusement park where he was head of the games department and he ” knew the economics of coin operated games.”

Later, he happened to end up in “the university of Utah video lab, the only place hooking up video screens to big computers .” He describes it as ” magic time magic place, total serendipity” and explains his realization that “if I could make this cheap people would play it.”

He started the company with just “$250 each my partner and I, and we could not raise capital from anybody, so we had to grow the company to about 40 million dollars until anybody would pay attention to us.” He expands that they “never had any money,” so they had to generate their funding “the old fashioned way.”

Kawasaki asks a specific, but common question about Atari, “Can you explain what “Atari” the word means? ”

Bushnell explains that it started with a game called “Go,” “an Asian game played by Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and it’s black and white stones on a 19 by 19 black and white matrix” He describes it as “The best game in the world, it balances your left and your right hemispheres there’s and art to it there’s a logic to it.

In the game, if you are about to engulf your opponent it’s an Atari. And so you say “Atari! It’s like check in chess and I thought, that’s a pretty aggressive name to name a company. So a lot of people thought it was a Japanese company because it was a Japanese game. But it was an American company with a Japanese name.

Bushnell also expands on the relevance of the arcade to innovative tech culture.  He explains that “historically it was the training ground, this bridge between what’s going on in the lab and what’s being done at home, because when things start out they are expensive, they’re not robust, and you can do them in the arcade.”

This perspective paints arcades as the kind of place that could bridge the gaps in available technology to the general public. An arcade was the kind of place where, for a quarter, anybody can reach the cutting edge of gaming tech.  Nolan Bushnell described how “arcades kind of lost their way when home technology seemed in terms of graphics to exceed what was found in arcades.”

Bushnell speaks of a future full of “sensors and processes and very cheap Raspberry Pis running HDMI, I mean magical stuff.” These things could be used to recreate arcades of the future and  restore “the arcade ” as a place of cultural relevancy.

Meanwhile, another event at SXSW also touched on that theme. The Mr. Robot television show chose to set their characters, techno-anarchist revolution at a former arcade. They gathered to learn and expand what was possibly in the (former) cultural hub.  This concept of the arcade as a cultural center could be of further relevance to the future.

Bushnell has other things to say about the future. He is currently discontent with the education system. He says “I feel like our schools are doing a horrible job. We’ve got too much school and not enough education.” His ideal vision with more “project-oriented” work in order to “up the ante for engagement, keeping curiosity and passion alive.”

He speaks critically of the idea that college is the only way. He explains that he thinks “we’ve reinvented indentured servitude, because of student debt. College is way too expensive. I mean the cost of college per hour is horrible.”  Taking it a little further, he references the “old joke ‘if you have a problem with pigeons on campus give them tenure and they’ll quit showing up.'”

His ideal world involves “eliminating noise”. Things like the “liberal arts” can be done more efficiently. He says ” we need to know how to write, we need to know how to fix sentences, that stuff. But that stuff, if mediated by software, you can do it in a day and a half, 15 or 20 minutes.”  From this perspective eliminating noise can lead to a better, more efficient, world.

The cappuccino machine is very loud. Throughout the discussion various people walk up and ask for one. At one point, the interviewer snaps cheerfully” Do you have to make cappuccino? It’s Nolan Bushnell you can always make cappuccino later.”

I am polite enough to wait till the presentation is over. However, it seems the cappuccino machine closed with the conclusion of the presentations. Apparently you can’t make cappuccino later.  But you can go get a picture and an autograph from Nolan Bushnell. Many people do. He is an icon to them.


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He wears practical shoes


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Grumpy Cat at SXSW 2016

Friskies brings Grumpy Cat to downtown Austin for SXSW Interactive


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#CatConcoctions presented by Friskies


People are standing in a very long line to see a cat. This line brought to you by Friskies, as yet another experiential marketing sensation has hit the scene at SXSW.

As is the tradition, big brands rent out various venues to create spectacles at SXSW. In this case, Friskies rented out  Caffé Medici to create a space that could raise brand awareness using the Internet’s very own “Grumpy Cat.”

Caffé Medici is a popular coffee show on Congress street in the posh part of downtown Austin. It’s a place where people have business meeting and write about their soul-searching world travel.

Grumpy Cat is an adorable cat that wears a naturally grumpy expression.  She is an internet phenomenon. Her real name is Tardar Sauce. She has fans.

The line stretches around the block at times. People who stand in the line will eventually be rewarded with a photo op featuring the Grumpy Cat. However there are only a few hours when this is possible, they don’t want to overtire the poor creature. Eventually they cut the line off.

The group is an assortment of people. It includes some of the typical SXSW Interactive tech crowd, but there are some of the hipster-type locals, as well as families out to experience the free parts of South By on a lovely spring afternoon.

The line that winds around the room is guided by ropes to keep people in place. There are cans of cat food sitting about. They are for decoration. They are not free. A girl makes this mistake. However, there are coupons for free cat food.

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People stood in this very long line

The line stretches on forever. Little Grumpy cat is there, sitting on her throne. She remains there while a line of people parade behind her to pose. It’s kind of like a photobomb, in that Grumpy Cat seems largely unaware of their presence. She also seems to be taking a nap. So at least the event is not overly stressful for her.

By the exit there are pieces of Grumpy Cat memorabilia. There are little glow-in-the-dark buttons that bear a simplified outline of the distinctive grumpy face. There are masks of Grumpy Cat’s face as well.

People love this cat.

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The eyes follow you.

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